The Sunday School Christmas Program on January 8th was
a big hit! We were so glad to put on our play after
Christmas. It gave us some time to soak up that Christmas
spirit for a little bit longer. This year we spent a lot of time
talking about the Christmas story and remembering that
Jesus is the reason for celebrating this wonderful time of
year. The kids had so much fun getting ready for the play and practicing the Christmas songs. Their favorite was Go! Tell it on the Mountain. It is always a blessing to see the Christmas story played out by the kids. Thank you so much to all the kids that participated and thank you to the parents for being so flexible! We can’t wait to perform for everyone again next year!
On January 20th we celebrated our country’s peaceful change of power. And whether you agree with the outcome or not, you must admit that this part of our democracy is honorable and worth keeping. There was no violent take over, no forcing in or out of office, and we were allowed the opportunity to write our choices on ballots in the privacy of a public cubical or our own home.
Yet, this election showed us how difficult it can be to find unity when we come from very different life experiences and stories. Still it is important to continue to value the voice of the vote and the right to be heard through elections and collective decision-making. And for me, it was a great experience to once again darken in the tiny ovals of my choices and hand in my ballot to be counted.
Two days after our new president took office we met as a congregation during our annual meeting to vote once again and make important decisions for our church in 2017. While I was compiling the annual report and reading the accomplishments we’ve achieved together this past year, I was astounded by exactly how many things we really did. Our church community and neighborhood is as diverse as our country and together we worked to serve and feed those in need. Together, we worked to create and build a new daycare for our community’s children. Together, we ran multiple ministry programs and provided a multitude of acts of service for hundreds and hundreds of individuals and families.
During last year’s annual meeting, we voted on bold decisions to continue to build and serve in our community, and look at the outcomes our faith provided us all! This year we voted again and took the first steps in new hope for our church in the New Year.
Relative to many churches we may be tiny, but we are truly mighty in our efforts. “Pride goeth before a fall”, so our success in 2016 is not about our own works, but in God’s ability to use our church to do great things when we follow God’s lead. We gave God the glory in all our accomplishments, and we trusted in God’s ability to provide. We remained faithful and open. And, we must do that again.
So, for those who are struggling as to what our country might be facing at the change of leadership, remember: God has this. And for those who are confident with the outcome, remember: God has this, too. Either way, the truth is truth. God has our country, just like God had our church this past year during its time of many transitions, and God will again in 2017. Our task now is to continue to work together to serve in our church, community and country. And, we must continue to work together, despite our differing life experiences and stories, to be true disciples of Christ’s love in our service, following God’s leadership and giving glory to our one and true King and Lord of all.
On Wednesday night, January 4th, our community was treated to an extra-special gastronomical delight with a smorgasbord of soul food favorites! Renita Watkins, the brilliant chef, is our head Wednesday night cook, and also works on our Monday and Friday food distributions. She is a blessing to the food ministry at Gethsemane and The Camden Promise. Renita called the meal The First Annual Roxi Mork Soul Food Dinner, honoring the memory of our beloved friend and fellow disciple of Christ in a very special way – and we are sure Roxi would approve. Thank you Renita for your culinary gifts and generosity. We look forward to next year’s soul food feast!
"We have born our bur-dens in the heat of the day, but we know the Lord has made a way. We've come a long way, Lord, a migh-ty long way." - African-American Spiritual
From Pastor Jeff:
It has been over a year since our last annual meeting and the day when our congregation made a bold decision. The loss of the old New Horizons Daycare meant the loss of over $100,000 a year in our annual budget. We knew we would have to invest with resources that we didn not currently have in order to stay afloat. The decision was daunting and the future unclear. But instead of becoming paralyzed by fear, we stepped out in faith and trust. We voted to venture into the unknown, somehow create our own daycare, and invest even more deeply in our community called the Gethsemane parish.
And the Lord found a way. We were approved for a building loan from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. With the help of mission partners and individual donors, we raised over $110,000 in revenue support in 2016 to cover our budget and leave us financially in the black. Through creative vision, faithful prayer, and a multitude of volunteer hours, our daycare, names Camden Kids, opened its doors in September 2016. After only four months of business, Camden Kids now has 24 children enrolled, a wonderful staff, a quality faith-based program, and a great director in Carrie Asanji If we continue along this trajectory, we will reach our target enrollment of 60 kids before the close of 2017 and once again have a stable revenue stream to support the ministry here at Gethsemane from 2018 and beyond. Not only are we grateful for the renewed financial security, but for the ability to once again minister to our parish's children.
Our community footprint deepened considerably this year in other ways. Gethsemane, along with NuWay Missionary Baptist and Living Word, gave away over 2000 toys to 480 families in December. Our partnerships with Second Harvest Heartland, The MN Food Group, The Camden Promise, and sister churches now support food distributions four days a week and community meals twice a week. We gave out over 30,000 pounds of food and made over 600 meals in December alone! Our Thanksgiving meal was again huge and a well-attended event. Our youth served the community across our nation on their "Random Acts of Kindness" Mission Trip to Florida, handing out cold bottles of water and blessings to people at rest stops along the way.
In November, our dear friend and my colleague Roxi Mork died unexpectedly of a rare and fatal illness. We are still grieving her loss in our lives as wife, mom, fiend, youth director, and in the myriad of hats she wore in our congregation. While we consign her to the grace and love of God, her presence seems to linger here in the huge influx of community members stepping up to use their gifts in service. I also find myself, in moments of doubt, hearing Roxi say to me what she often said, "God has got this."
Though we have borne our burdens during this time of uncertainty at Gethsemane, God still is finding a way with his "church on the corner" and our community. From a dire situation, we were called to look outside of the box, to adapt and try new things in order to expand our boundaries and fully embrace God's people. We ask God to continue to stir in us the desire to serve, to follow God's lead, and to use each of our unique gifts within our church and community. We thank God for weathering the storm with us in 2016 and honing our discipleship skills as we look forward to the year ahead with hope and new purpose.